K-12 Curriculum

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*Opinions expressed in Letters to the Editor are not necessarily those of The Messenger.

Ethnic studies will turn schools into extremist boot camps

We need to hold our leaders accountable for our children's education.

                                                                        Katherine Kersten

Minnesota parents: In the midst of the Twin Cities' ongoing crime surge, do you want your children taught that the sense of disorder in carjackings and “smash-and-grab” looting is merely a social “construction”? That the work of the men and women of our police departments – charged with stemming this crime wave – is rooted in slavery and “oppression”?

Do you want your kids to be trained to view themselves and their classmates as members of “racialized hierarchies” based on “dominant European beauty standards”?

To disdain their families' religious beliefs as the source of “caste systems” used to “justify imperialism, colonization, warfare and chattel slavery”?

Do you believe that our public schools' mission is to train our kids to “resist” America's “systemic” abuse of power against “marginalized,” oppressed groups?

If the Minnesota Department of Education's (MDE) proposed new social studies standards are adopted – having begun the formal rule-making process – this is what our children will be learning for the next 10 years.

MDE acknowledges its new standards mark a “major shift” from curriculum standards. In fact, in MDE's brave new educational world, ideology will replace the basic factual knowledge students need to be informed citizens, enlisting them as foot soldiers in an extremist political crusade.

The ideological lens through which social studies subjects like history, and geography will be taught is ethnic studies – a highly politicized “fifth strand” that MDE has added to the fourth social studies content areas named in state law. Its theories and assumptions are set forth in a 2017 essay titled “The Need for Ethnic Studies Curriculum in Minnesota Schools.”

The essay's lead author, Jonathan Hamilton, is a member of the MDE appointed committee that drafted the standards. He is also the leader of Education for Liberation Minnesota, a group that has denounced our state's public education system as a “white supremacist puzzle that must be taken apart and exposed for the lie it is.”

Hamilton writes that K-12 academic standards have been “shaped to maintain” the “existing power structure privileging whites.”

“Ethnic Studies is a political struggle” to change that system, according to the essay.

Forget about teaching students about the historical leaders and events that shaped our democracy, like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and American-led victories in World War II. Minnesota's new ethnic studies standards will drill three ideological tenets into kids' heads: that their skin color determines their “identity”; that life is a zero-sum power struggle between race-based oppressor and victim groups; and that American history is a shameful story of domination, marginalization and injustice.

Ethnic studies starts kids down the path to political activism. Under the new standards, one of which is titled “Resistance,” for example, they are instructed to “organize” to resist America's “systemic and coordinated exercises of power” against “marginalized,” oppressed groups.

How will this play out in Minnesota classrooms? Here is an example: Students will study our police departments and justice system in connection with an ethnic studies standard that requires them to “understand the roots of contemporary systems of oppression.”

Education for Liberation, Hamilton's organization, teaches that “formalized American policing really began with slave patrols” that were “empowered” to “brutalize” “Black and Native folks,” and evolved “directly into modern police departments.”

Fifth-graders will first “examine contemporary policing” and its alleged “historical roots in early America.” “Sixth-graders will “describe the goals, offenses, penalties, long-term consequences, privacy concerns, of Minnesota's juvenile justice system” and “evaluate the impact on youth, including those from historically disenfranchised groups.”

Finally, high-schoolers will “examine incarceration” and “explore how criminality is constructed and what makes a person a criminal.”

Biased, misleading instruction of this kind will likely generate fear and resentment in students of some racial/ethnic groups, and convince them that policing and criminality are oppressive, racially “constructed,” and among the many things they are called on to “resist.”

How do our public schools get hijacked in service of this extremist agenda?

MDE appointed prominent activists from the Minnesota Ethnic Studies Coalition (MESC) – an alliance of advocacy groups – to the committee that drafted its new standards.

Education for Liberation has described MESC as one of its own “projects.” The coalition's primary mission, when it was created in 2019, was “revising the state Social Studies through participating on the Minnesota Social Studies Standards Revision Committee,” according to Education for Liberation's website.

The coalition has issued an action alert aimed at building public support for the new standards' benchmark on “the history of policing.”

“It is impossible” for students “to learn about fights against injustice in this country,” it declares, “without addressing policing, which continues to be the center of the fight for racial justice in Minnesota and elsewhere.” The action alert features an image of a student with a raised fist.

Education for Liberation is also working hard to drum up support for the anti-policing benchmarks. Posting under the name of “Support the 5th Strand!!” the group retweeted a graphic that makes its end game clear.

“The Abolition of Policing is about Building a New World.” “Defunding the police” and “rebuilding the commons” means “abolishing the social order and building a new society.”

The group has already created a school curriculum - “aligned to Minnesota State Standards” - to convince young people that it is imperative to abolish the police.

This is the “companion curriculum” to the “MPD150 Report,” which Education for Liberation describes as a “community-written history of the Minneapolis Police Department.” The report describes the MPD as “the front end of a system of mass incarceration that devours Black, brown, and Indigenous peoples” and is “not reformable.”

“The idea of a police-free future,” it maintains, is “the only pragmatic solution to the challenge of a police system rooted in the era of slavery and Indian removal.”

The policing benchmarks are just the tip of the “activist agenda” iceberg in MDE's proposed new social studies standards. If adopted, these standards – which will teach our children that life is a never-ending power struggle between those who share their skin color and everyone else – will rend our social fabric.

Ultimately, the responsibility for education policy remains with the governor and Minnesota legislators. Parents and citizens need to hold them accountable.

Katherine Kersten (kerstenkatherine@gmail.com) is a senior policy fellow at the Center of the American Experiment.

Submitted by

Dr. James Russell Lehman Kenyon, MN 55046

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